Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Sign of the Beaver

The Sign of the Beaver. Elizabeth George Speare. 1983. Random House. 135 pages.

It took me less than an hour to read this Newbery Honor book. What did I think about it? Well, it's flawed for one thing. With its use of words like "savage" and "squaw" etc. to describe American Indians. (One of the things that I noticed throughout was the broken English used by the Indian characters.)

The book stars a young boy named Matt. He's twelve or thirteen. And his father has left him in the family's new cabin in the wilderness of Maine. His father needed his son's help in building the cabin and planting the corn. And now he needs his son's help in "protecting" this new home while he returns to his family to bring back his wife and daughter.

Should Matt have been able to survive on his own? Maybe, maybe not. Certain circumstances come about leaving Matt's survival in question--his gun is stolen, much of his food is destroyed. Fortunately, there are a few local Indians who go out of their way to befriend the young boy. Through the months as he waits for his family to return, Matt slowly but surely sees Attean--the Indian boy--as a friend, a true friend, almost a brother. There are layers of distrust and hatred--on both sides--that must be overcome for this friendship to work. That doesn't mean Attean trusts white men. That doesn't mean Attean is happy that white settlers are moving onto his people's hunting grounds. That he is happy to be moving because of all this "progress."

One of the interesting aspects of this one is that Matt shares with Attean Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. He reads--albeit an edited version of the tale--aloud to him. Matt's commentary--his observations--on Robinson Crusoe are interesting--to me. His little asides, his little realizations. His friendship with Attean lead him to question (though perhaps not drastically enough) his favorite book. Though Matt has his flawed moments--he is meant to represent (I believe) a thinking person.

The novel is flawed in my opinion. I think readers should think about the way Attean is presented, how he is portrayed. To consider that this is Matt's story, his perspective. And that Attean's story would be different.

See More On Sign Of the Beaver at American Indians in Children's Literature.
And When Books Fall Out of Fashion at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

He opened Robinson Crusoe at the first page and began to read. I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York....He stopped. He remembered suddenly how the first time he had tried to read this book he had found that first page so dull he had come close to giving up right there. He had better skip the beginning and get on with the story if he wanted to catch Attean's attention. "I'll read the part about the storm at sea," he said.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Emily 9:59 PM  

I read this one when I was much younger. I had forgotten that I read it. I remember liking the descriptions of trapping and hunting. And didn't they read Robinson Crusoe?

Unknown 12:27 PM  

I think this is a wonderful portrayal of someone from that time period coming to a realization that is different from that of his society/generation. What other words than savage and squaw were these white settlers using at that time? I've read this book several times with both my boys and have found it to be an incredible story both have enjoyed very much (my older son talked about it for years) and great for discussions.

The disclusion of or "tossing of" books like this from curriculum and libraries is the equivalent of banning books, imho.

I totally disagree with that first article you posted. It's a bunch of political correctness, which I have no time for. It also pulls the reverse racist card in saying an author can only write about their own race.

Of course, I don't agree with pretty much anything that goes on in today's educational system. PC-ism being only one of the many concerns.

Sorry, for being the dissenting voice.

Anonymous,  8:29 PM  

Well my teacher is reading this book for class reading time and so far its wonderful

Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge
Linked to sign up page

Family Tree Reading Challenge

Family Tree Reading Challenge
Link to sign-up page

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge
Linked To Sign Up Page

2018 Charity Challenge (Sign Up)

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge
Link to sign up page

2018 Picture Book Challenge

2018 Picture Book Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge
click image to go to sign up post

Good Rules Cheat List

Board books and picture books = new is anything published after 2013
Early readers and chapter books = new is anything published after 2013
Contemporary (general/realistic) = new is anything published after 2007
Speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy = new is anything published after 2007
Classics = anything published before 1968
Historical fiction = new is anything published after 2007
Mysteries = new is anything published after 1988
Nonfiction = new is anything published after 2007
Christian books = new is anything published after 2000
Bibles = new is anything published after 1989

My Blog List

(Old) Challenge Participants

Becky's Hosting These Challenges

100 Books Project: Fill in the Gaps

Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP